As I write this, I can hear the neighborhood children playing outside my house… rolling around in the grass and squealing. I am a firm believer that children should spend as much time in nature as possible – in order to respect and cherish something, you need to know it! – but it is very important that children, and their parents are mindful of some of the risks…
The month of May – today being the last day of it – was Lyme Disease Awareness Month in many states, including my state of Maryland. The timing is significant since more people are spending time outdoors with the warm temperatures and sunshine. People love to be outside in this weather soaking up the sun, socializing at cookouts, hiking through the woods; on the same token, it is during this time that ticks – the insect that carries the Lyme pathogen – begins to thrive.
I have mentioned my struggle with Lyme disease (and the related disease that I also contracted) on my blog before, but never in any kind of detail about how it affected me. At first, I thought it would be burdensome to read about illness, but as a sort of public service announcement, I believe it bears repeating…
Kris and I go to the Eastern Shore of Maryland each June and spend a few days at the beach with his parents. For the last several years, we have taken our bikes along and have sought out some mountain biking trails en route to the beach. The Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware is a beautiful place with several forested areas and waterways to explore. Kris and I stopped at one of the state forests near Salisbury last June (photos from that day) and biked around the park for awhile and snapped a few photos.
I was aware of Lyme disease, and made an effort to wear long pants and to tuck my socks into my pants (there was a lot of underbrush). I was wearing a t-shirt and a bandana on my head, and was also carrying a small lightweight backpack with my camera and canteen. We stayed for a few hours and left with some mosquito bites and a healthy appetite. We drove another hour towards the coast, stopped at a farmer’s market to get some food and ate outside (we were still kind of sweaty…) before meeting up with Kris’s family. Neither one of us immediately rushed to the showers, instead staying outside longer – Kris went fishing with his brother and I sat out and played with the nieces and chatted with my mother and sister-in-law. It was probably about 6 to 7 hours later that I undressed and discovered the small specks all over my legs. Upon closer examination, I realized that the specks were actually ticks. They covered my belly and upper legs to my knee. We stopped counting around 15.
I stayed calm, and Kris and I got them out and didn’t worry too much more. Over the next day, I found a few more specks (no larger than the head of a pin – these were very small deer ticks) We didn’t find any visible specks on him, even though he was with me the whole time we were in the forest.
Fast forward about three/four weeks – Mid July: I notice a small patch on my left thigh. Not quite the “bull’s eye rash”, but definitely an abnormal splotch. I ignored it for about a week, then I begin to wonder if it might have something to do with the tick bites. I scheduled an appointment with my general practictioner and he immediately noted it as abnormal and sent off for a Lyme blood test. …weird thing was that my first test came back negative… It was about that time that I began to have some serious symptoms: serious joint pain, especially in my jaw and neck, tingling and numbness in my legs and arms, serious heart palpitations and shortness of breath (not while doing any exercise or anything physical). My doctor went ahead and put me on some antibiotics and wanted me to see a cardiologist and a pulmonary specialist. I spent a whole afternoon in the office getting a battery of ultrasounds and -grams tests… but things just got worse, even with the medicine. Quickly my memory was fading, and there was a serious broken link between my brain and my mouth. I could not speak what I was thinking, and the numbness in my legs and arms increased so much that they felt like dead weight. …and then I seriously thought I was going to have a heart attack because of the persistant palpitations and shortness of breath…
Kris and I were seriously scared. I woke up each day wondering what was going to happen next… and I am not exaggerating… whether I would wake up at all. It was a very scary time. I am so grateful to Kris for his help during this period – it is still so foggy in my mind – he did research and found out that what I was experiencing was very real and was undoubtedly related to the tick bites. He found a doctor that specialized in Lyme and related co-infections and made an appointment with me. He had to drive me there and help me into the office – I was not able to do it myself. He came in to the room with me and as I sat there in my fog, he told the doctor what had happened. I chimed in when I could.
What I experienced was a very quick set-in, undoubtedly from the sheer number of ticks that bit me. Immediately, the doctor clinically diagnosed me with Lyme and a blood test confirmed that I also contracted a blood disease from the ticks called Babesiosis. Looking back now, I realize that it was because of the diseases, but also many of my unhealthy habits – specifically diet-related - that made my illness so bad so fast.
By the middle of August, I was on a very strict treatment plan that included many drugs – some to treat the diseases, but some others like supplements to treat some of my underlying issues like vitamin definciencies. Using a holistic approach, my doctor also encouraged a strict diet and some mild exercise …and within a matter of weeks, I began to feel so much better. Like SO much better… better than before I was sick. Things were brighter and smelled sweeter. No more low lows and depressive periods. I even had the added benefit of losing about 40 lbs.
Every 3.5 weeks, I had to go to the lab to get my blood taken for tests to determine my levels, and each month I saw my doctor. She and I were both so happy with my quick turnaround. My treatments were long and tedious – at one point I was taking 26 pills a day – and I had to be very disciplined.
…Last week – just shy a month of when I contracted the illness from the ticks – I took my last antibiotic treatment. I am maintaining my supplements, but it feels so good not to take all of the serious medications after nine months of treatment.
The research on Lyme is still very minimal, and it is a controversial disease. It is often ignored for years by both the patient and the doctor. My doctor encourages me to pay very close attention to how I feel (and I still continue to see her although not as frequently) because Lyme is never 100% cured. Lyme can “lay dormant” in some people for years and when their immunities are down for one reason or another, some symptoms can come forward. It is a mysterious disease, but one that can be treated to make the patient have a better quality of life.
My experience with this disease was definitely not as severe as some cases that you hear or read about… but I caught it early. Some people are misdiagnosed or go undiagnosed for decades.
You may have heard a bit more about Lyme Disease this past month – several major news reports came out both on the TV, newspapers, the radio, and on the internet. My favorite magazine, Experience Life, had an amazingly informative and comprehensive article this month – the author is a science writer, but her and her whole family were ill from Lyme for years before they were treated. Read the article here.
It’s about being mindful – isn’t it always? Paying attention to what is happening both around you and in you. And it is not about living in fear either… don’t let this scare you from going outside! It hasn’t done that to me – I garden, hike, bike, and spend as much time outside as I can. Just check yourself, your loved ones – even your furry friends – for the little buggers. … and if you find them, don’t squash them. Simply extract and flush them. Then pay attention to any symptoms.
If you read this entire post, thank you. I feel like this information needs to be out there.